I thought it would be a passing fad. The idea of eating in the dark sounded like one of those Californian-inspired homages to political correctness that gets lots of press attention but has a very short shelf life. Like the Ice Bar on Heddon Street.
As with many things to do with food and fashion, I was wrong. The original Dans le Noir came out of Paris (the clue being in the name) and has been selling its unique dining experience in London since 2006. By the time I finally checked out the Farringdon branch of this international restaurant franchise, Dans le Noir had changed status from flash-in-the-pan upstart to an established local eatery.
But I still had questions. How dark is it? (Shaded or pitch black?) If eating is as much a visual as a taste experience, do you lose a lot of the dining experience by eating in the dark? Is it difficult? And finally, will it be fun?
When we arrived in the reception I was a little underwhelmed. Rather then an upmarket dining experience it felt like the waiting room for an alternative comedy club. The front of house team explain what was going to happen, what was not allowed (phones, torches, and anything else that emits light), and invite you to place said items in a locker before taking a drink at the bar. You are led into the restaurant caravan style – one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you. Any thoughts that this is a little over-the-top quickly disappear when you enter the restaurant. To call it dark is doing it a disservice. It is pitch black. Completely devoid of light. The type of darkness when you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Having pre-ordered our meal and wine in advance, our group of six were taken to our table. The logistical challenges of pouring your wine are overcome easily enough (put your finger slightly in the glass and stop when the wine touches it), although there is a general nervousness and subsequent clumsiness that seems to take over everyone. The courses are brought by your waitress who repeatedly barks names and orders – Walton, salad, Walton, salad – until I shout back loud enough to both claim my salad and for her to locate me. Much like a bat.
I opted for the seafood, which consisted of a tuna salad (I think) and a swordfish steak with vegetables. The food is better then I expected, but it's not great. Perhaps it’s the whole setting, and the slight hysteria that descends when a group of adults are made to eat in the dark. (Admittedly we paid for the experience.) But from a dining perspective, it feels very student-like. Which would be fine, except at £51 for a three-course meal excluding drinks, Dans le Noir is not priced for students.
The restaurant is a lot of fun. A work group, or even a hen party, might enjoy it a lot if looking for an alternative venue. However, it is not in the least bit romantic, and I’m not sure the dining experience is enhanced by being in the dark. But then again, I’ve just found out that the earlier mentioned Ice Bar on Heddon street is indeed still open. Trends, huh. What do I know?